Aside from all the other benefits that breastfeeding offers, for me, the primary benefit of breastfeeding my son was that it made me feel like Mum.
When Gavin was born, I was surrounded by people who all knew more about babies and children than I did. They knew how to hold the baby, bathe the baby, change the baby’s diaper, sing to the baby, you name it – and yes, I didn’t know how to do a single thing despite having read all about it. It was like I wasn’t necessary and that if I tried to help, I would just get in the way.
Feeling useless is a terrible feeling to have when you are the mother. And if you aren’t assertive, there is a tendency to want to leave the baby caring to people who “know better” or are more experienced. That further affects your confidence as a mother.
Although I had to learn how to breastfeed Gavin, it was still the one thing that I, and only I, could do for him. Nobody could take that role away from me and once Gavin and I had established our nursing relationship, we were set.
It was also interesting to note that I wasn’t the only mother who felt this way. Another mother I know found breastfeeding her daughter also helped her “learn how to be a mother”. When her own mother suggested she offer her daughter formula, she felt offended, as if her mother were trying to take away the one thing that made her feel like a mother to her baby.
Establishing a Nursing Relationship
This varies individually from mother to mother. Some mothers and babies have an easier time establishing their nursing relationship, others don’t. I found it difficult. Improper latches, painful nipples, concerns about not enough milk and jaundice were the forerunners obstructing me. You might have the same problems, different ones or none at all.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) in the first six months of infancy aside (that means offer baby breastmilk and breastmilk only – no formula or other substitute), the main benefit of practicing EBF is that it ensures that mother and baby do eventually establish a comfortable nursing relationship. Especially with difficulties nursing at the start, it is easy to get dissuaded and allow your baby to be bottle fed. The more you offer your baby the bottle, the more difficulties arise when you try to breastfeed, which compounds the problem.
I received a lot of well-intentioned but misplaced advice to offer a mix of formula and breastmilk. These were the concerns/arguments:
1. Offering formula at night meant someone else could feed the baby and I would get to rest.
If you learn how to nurse the baby lying down, you can both rest at the same time.
2. The fear that I would not have enough milk.
Milk is produced on demand. The more baby suckles, the more milk is produced. If the baby needs more milk, put the baby on the breast more often, not less. By offering milk formula, the baby suckles less and the body produces less milk. Well-intentioned relatives then say, “See, I told you you don’t have enough milk,” when in reality, they were the ones that sabotaged Mum’s milk supply.
There are incidences where some women don’t have enough milk – but these are few and far between. If mother nature had made this a common problem, a lot of babies in the pre-formula-days would have gone hungry. In short, it’s evolutionary suicide and mother nature isn’t that stupid.
If you want to bond with your baby and you don’t know how, make sure you get off to the right start and try breastfeeding. To ensure the greatest success with this, practice exclusive breastfeeding.
Once you get the hang of it, you can do it in your sleep – truly. There are some nights when I feed Gavin so automatically that I barely remember waking up at all. I only know that I have nursed him because I wake up to find him on the breast or my breast exposed after he’s done nursing.